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Unit 4 Organizing texts (1) General-specific


So far, we have concentrated on a number of purposes for which writing is used. We have examined some functions of informational writing, such as defining, and describing spatial relations, and have practised some organizational and grammatical areas which are particularly useful in expressing such ideas.

In this unit we are going to study an organizational principle of informational writing which can be used in organizing texts which have a wide variety of purposes. This is the general-specific pattern.

Generalizations are very important in writing. The sentence you have just read is a generalization and exemplifies one important function of generalizations: they are very useful in starting off a piece of writing/paragraph.

Task 1

With a partner, look at the following statements and identify:

  1. the most general statement;

  2. the most specific statement.

  1. The results of an Edinburgh survey show that good language learners cope effectively with the emotional and motivational problems of language learning.

  2. Most surveys show that many good language learners select goals and subgoals for themselves.

  3. The majority of good language learners in the Edinburgh survey see language learning as a social process.

  4. In a survey of good language learners taken in Edinburgh, 52% said they found talking to themselves to be a good way of learning how to talk in a foreign language.

  5. One good learner, interviewed in the Edinburgh survey, claimed to have learned his English from watching television.

Generalizations allow a writer to introduce many points of detail in one statement (the generalization). Some or all of these can be developed later in the text, using information structures appropriate to the task, e.g. classifying, defining.

Task 2

Compose generalizations to cover the following sets of details.

  1. Humans eat beef, pork, mutton, fish, fowl, etc.

  2. Hinduism is a religion. Buddhism is a religion. Islam is a religion. Christianity is a religion.

  3. Townsend's extensive study of poverty in the United Kingdom indicated that 57.2 per cent of those in households in poverty were women. In 1971 only 28 per cent of female employees, as against 62 per cent of male employees, were covered by an occupational pension scheme.

  4. Computers are good at solving numerical problems. Computers are not good at tasks requiring common sense. Computers are good at selecting information. Computers are not good at tasks requiring imagination.

About writing

Generalizations are very powerful statements in that they can represent a large number of specific details. However, this necessarily means that they are rather vague. For example, if you read the generalization 'Reactions against technology are not new', you would expect the writer to support the generalization with some examples of 'old' reactions against technology. The text would have a general-specific pattern.


Read this text and complete the diagram by filling in the numbers of appropriate sentences. You may need to use some numbers more than once.

Uses of Computers

(1) There are some tasks for which computers are eminently suited, and others at which they are no good at all. (2) We know that they are very good at carrying out large computations -number crunching. (3) They are very good at storing informa­tion (a passive task), and selecting parts of it (an active task). (4) They are very good at trying an enormous number of possible combinations of conditions because they can sift through the possibilities at immense speed.

(5) Computers can run highly complex process plants in indus­try, for example, in chemical works. (6) Raw materials are fed in at one end, and a product emerges at the other; in between there may be an infinity of combinations of temperatures, pressures and intermediate products, maintaining the balance of which is essential to getting what you want out of the plant. (7) The whole process can be controlled by a computer, which monitors the variables, and makes adjustments accordingly.


specifics (examples)

Task 4

Rearrange the following sentences so that the resultant text follows a general-specific pattern.

i) The defeat of France in the Napoleonic Wars is claimed to have been followed by a period of rampant mysticism including a wide resurgence of interest in astrology.

ii) George Orwell's 1984, an equally damn­ing indictment of the totalitarian possibilities contained in advanced technology, was written in the years immedi­ately following the Second World War.

iii) Reactions against technology are not new.

iv) Throughout history man has been warned that he was creating forces he would be unable to control, that machines would eventually take over the planet and demand the total obedience of the human race (if, indeed, it was still allowed to exist), that to place one's faith in science and technology was to make a pact, like Faust, with the devil.

v) Opposition to reason and to rationality, frequently em­bracing attacks on science and technology, has in particu­lar been experienced by societies that have suffered a major upheaval or catastrophe.

vi) Oswald Spengler captured the imagination of a defeated Germany in 1920 with the publication of his Decline of the West and his prediction that 'Faustian man will be dragged to death by his own machine'.

Notice that, in this text (when the sentences have been rearranged), there is more than one sentence of generalization before the examples appear. The general sentences become more and more concrete until the specific examples are introduced by the phrase 'in particular'.

Прямая соединительная линия 11Examples are not the only kind of information which can follow a generalization. Sometimes a generalization provides a preview of the central points, which will be expanded in more detail in the rest of the text.

Task 5

Draw a diagram (like the one in Task 3) to show the general-specific structure of this extract.

Stated simply, there are two habitats for plants and in each habitat raw materials are obtained differently. In land plants, oxygen and carbon dioxide enter through the pores in the leaves and stems. All the other raw materials are taken in from the soil through the roots. Plants that live in water are surrounded by dissolved raw materials which they take in all over their surfaces.

Task 6

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